MANCHESTER – Pep Guardiola drew first blood in his renewed managerial duel with Jose Mourinho as Manchester City deservedly won an absorbing Premier League derby 2-1 against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Kevin de Bruyne, who was never appreciated by Mourinho when they were at Chelsea together, proved instrumental in City’s magnificent win, scoring the opener and making the second for Kelechi Iheanacho before halftime.
With his side being outpassed and outclassed in a one-sided first half, Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought United back into the match just before the break after a mistake by City’s new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Bravo’s error on a hugely unconvincing debut inspired a much more even second half and Ibrahimovic had goal ruled out for offside before man of the match De Bruyne hit the post as City maintained their 100 percent record this season to move three points clear at the top of the table.
Mourinho, whose cordial embrace of Guardiola at the start of the match was warmer than the response Old Trafford gave to the new City boss, was left frustrated, saying he believed referee Mark Clattenburg should have awarded United two penalties.
After months of hype in Manchester – and well beyond -following the appointment of the two great managerial foes, it was Guardiola’s side who initially took complete control of a game that was being billed as one the whole world was watching.
For much of the first half, City’s slick passing and neat movement brought back memories of the way Guardiola’s old Barcelona side would once often pass rings round Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
Yet the initial breakthrough came from an unGuardiola-like route one approach in the 15th minute, Aleksandar Kolarov’s hoofed ball being met by a flicked header from Iheanacho which allowed the excellent De Bruyne to nip in past a leaden-footed Daley Blind and fire home.
Iheanacho, ensuring that suspended Sergio Aguero was not unduly missed up front, underlined City’s dominance, tapping home after De Bruyne’s 36th-minute left-footed strike had come back off the post.
United were offered a lifeline when Bravo, whose signing to replace City favourite Joe Hart has been the most controversial move of Guardiola’s brief reign, failed to claim a straightforward free kick from the right.
He dropped the ball under no great pressure, allowing the alert Ibrahimovic to volley home from the edge of the box and quite transform the game’s dynamic.
Bravo looked a bag of nerves and nearly presented United with an equaliser before halftime and when Mourinho sought a more positive approach from his side with a double substitution at halftime, youngster Marcus Rashford made an immediate impact.
The teenager’s 70th-minute shot left Bravo well beaten but the goal was ruled out as it had brushed off the shin of Ibrahimovic who was standing offside.
The hapless Bravo could easily have given away a penalty with a studs-up challenge on an infuriated Wayne Rooney but City regained their composure, defended with resolve and could have wrapped up a more emphatic victory when De Bruyne’s late shot hit the post and ran across the face of goal.
A delighted Guardiola praised his team’s first-half performance and jumped to the defence of former Barcelona keeper Bravo.
“In the second half, he continued to play and that’s a good thing about his personality. He was one of the reasons we played well in the first half,” Guardiola said.
Mourinho, though, was adamant that Clattenburg should have awarded penalties when Bravo, having lost control of the ball in his own area, lunged in with studs showing to tackle Rooney and also when a cross hit Nicolas Otamendi’s arm.
“Mark made two big mistakes. Claudio Bravo is a penalty and a red card,” Mourinho said.
“The second one is a handball by Nicolas Otamendi – some pundits will say no because it’s the back of the arm but he knows. He’s looking at the ball. We are not happy with these decisions.” – Reuters